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Friday, August 15, 2008

New Dictionary Words!

Abstract: Summary or condensed version of a study that provides a Cliff-Notes version for researchers who haven't the time and for audiences who haven't a clue.
Barnum Affect: Individual acceptance of vague and generalized versions of personality as an accurate reflection of their own personality. An affect used to effect by circus (P.T. Barnum), psychological (Dr. Phil), and advertising ringmasters.
Bi-Polar Disorder: An extreme elevation in mood due to extreme elevation in latitude. Common among arctic explorers.
Existential Anxiety: Refers to anxiety about finding one's place in the world, in line, or trying to find where one placed one's car keys.
General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS): The body's generalized attempt to defend itself against flatulence.
Scientific Method: Research strategy by which a person identifies a problem, creates hypotheses, develops predictions, and tests them through the collection and analysis of data. Normally followed by the groveling method, where one vainly tries to convince one's peers to recognize the problem and one's hypothesis, prediction, and tests.(see Galileo).
Self-depreciation: To devalue oneself, one's body or part of it. Usually instigated by an appreciation of TV shows, video games, and doughnuts.
Yoga: The science of stretching to feel better. Trademarked 3,000 years ago by some Indian gurus, which is a stretch.
Schema: A cognitive structure utilized to make sense of the world.When a psychologist tries to sell it to you, this is called a scheme.
Sympathetic Nervous System: Part of the autonomic nervous system that controls emotional responses to news of home foreclosures, forest fires, and kittens stuck in trees.
Hard Wired: Tiny little, yet hard wires that causes us to like sex, be afraid of spiders, and prefer vanilla ice cream. Hard wires are an essential ingredient for our behavior that dispenses with the need for hard thinking.
Fixation: Psychological disorder, common among housewives, that forces them to incessantly drive their spouses to fix sinks, roofs, fences, and other assorted objects.
Episodic Memory: The uncanny ability to remember selected TV episodes in months or years past.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Mindfulness Meditation fights AIDS!!

Yesterday, I blogged about how Mindfulness Meditation causes brain rot. However, when you consider how in balance mindfulness is the right therapy for everything else that that troubles us, its a pretty good trade off to have a procedure that can at least cause us to be healthy way into our senile old age. In his book Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift foresaw this intimation of immortality, as Gulliver was shown a pile of dust by the wise academics of the Academy of Lagado. Although they cured mortality, they couldn't cure decay, so immortality was proof against all perils, exempting of course a wayward vacuum cleaner.

Your author 300 years in the future at the keyboard

So when I read recently about how Mindfulness Meditation fights HIV, I knew that we were one step closer to dust pile immortality. Until of course, I read the fine print. It seems that mindfulness worked because it reduces stress, which in turn helps the body in its fight against HIV. Would this not mean that any therapy that reduces stress fights aids? I kinda think so. The argument is reminiscent of those Bayer Aspirin commercials touting the effectiveness of taking Bayer as a therapy for heart disease. Sure enough, but was it Bayer or was it the aspirin? In other words, was it the 'brand' that made it work or was it the generic medicine that it labeled?

So the con is on! (Was it ever off?) To say relaxation therapies fight disease is too generic in this new age of brand management. I would gather it's much easier getting an audience, grants, and tenure when you change the topic by changing the label. Thank goodness the BS label has continued to serve us well in times like these!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Mindfulness Meditation causes brain rot!!!

It's a truism that exercise hurts, and if you don't exercise you'll eventually be in a world of hurt. The same thing applies to the 'exercise' of the brain, namely the rumination or thinking that occurs when we contemplate life's problems, whether they represent our contemplation of the nature of the universe or the nature of our kids behavior. So if we don't exercise, our body will eventually fall apart, and if we don't think about our problems eventually our mind will.

The latter result is due to the fact that rumination builds complex interconnections in our brain that (mainly due to the activity of dopamine neurons that are active when we contemplate problems) increase the efficiency of thinking, and as it turns out, enables us to resist degenerative diseases of the nervous system, namely dementia or Alzheimer's. This was confirmed recently by Israeili researchers who discovered that a consistent lack of rumination associated with much higher incidence of dementia in later life. Thus, if you don't think about your problems you stand a 40% increased likelihood of dementia later in life. The irony is that those who worry about this don't need to worry, and those who don't worry about this do. A no win or should I say no worry situation is there ever was one.

All of this goes against the grain (or should I say brain) of the don't worry, be happy school of thought (e.g. mindfulness meditation, positive psychology) that sees the future of humanity as a tranquil field of flower sniffing clones. Supposedly, if you're happy just non pensively looking at the world, you'll be even more happy as a human vegetable. It makes sense if your aspirations are to become not a couch potato, but just a potato.

Pavlovian Politics

In a famous or perhaps infamous experiment in the 1920's , the psychologist John Watson struck a metal bar as a little child named Albert grasped a cuddly white rat. Afterward, little Albert was understandably upset and anxious when even viewing the white rat. The 'little Albert' experiment thus demonstrated that mere association, no matter how spurious, can generate fear and loathing. It's sort of like the feeling we get when a friend tells us that they are a member of the democratic or republican parties, it just depends upon whether either party struck us the wrong way in the past.

This associational principle was discovered by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov in the early 20th century. But although his work is generally forgotten, these Pavlovian principles live on, at least in modern advertising. Called product placement, if you want to sell a Mercedes, cereal, or hemorrhoid medication, might as well place it respectively in Paris, among giddy children, or in the midst of happy adults traipsing through fields of flowers. In fact, if you want to sell anything, just put in the hands of happy people waltzing through fields of flowers. The latest product placement has been this below association that I've noticed in recent political ads, an association which I must say has strongly affected me.

I don't know about you, but somehow I'm suddently finding this Barack guy as something of a turn on.